In Brief: The Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX) recently made a significant decision regarding the termination of parental rights by Child Protective Services (CPS). The ruling, which upholds a broad interpretation of “endangerment”, allows for the termination of parental rights even when no specific threat of harm to the child can be identified. The court’s decision allows for an “inference” of a risk of harm to the child, even if no specific moment of danger can be identified. This ruling represents the continuation of a longstanding CPS practice that has drawn significant criticism from parental rights advocates. While the ruling is disappointing, the TX Supreme Court also opened a new door to protect parental rights when it instructed the 14th Court of Appeals to take a closer look at important constitutional questions in the case.

A Texas father has been experiencing CPS’s (Child Protective Services) attempt to terminate his parental rights even though the courts found that there was never an identifiable moment when his children were placed in actual danger. This case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of Texas where the question was asked whether an inferred, theoretical danger is enough to permanently terminate a parent’s right or whether an actual moment of identifiable danger is necessary. At the Family Freedom Project, we have been contending that to terminate a parent’s rights—rights granted by God and protected as fundamental under the US Constitution—CPS must establish the specific circumstances of actual danger to the particular child involved. A theoretical risk of harm to a theoretical child is not enough.

In a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX), the court passed on an opportunity to protect parental rights.

The ruling upholds a broad interpretation of endangerment, allowing for termination even when no specific moment of danger to the child and no specific threat of harm can be identified. Historically, CPS (Child Protective Services) in Texas has inferred theoretical “danger” from circumstances, regardless of whether an actual, identifiable threat of harm existed. This has raised questions about the threshold for terminating parental rights and the impact on families.

While theoretical risks of harm could arise from circumstances, the Family Freedom Project is arguing that there must be evidence of an actual and specific threat of harm to justify termination of parental rights. It is one thing to find that theoretical risks of harm could arise from the circumstances. It is another to find that actual risk of actual and significant harm presented itself and the parent ignored that risk.

In a notable dissent, Justices Blacklock and Justice Busby raised crucial points, stating, “Properly understood, the statute requires clear and convincing evidence of endangerment that warrants the extraordinary remedy of termination. This surely means, at a minimum, that the children have actually suffered significant harm or have blessedly avoided significant harm despite being exposed to extraordinarily dangerous conditions by their parents. I see no such evidence here.” They emphasized the need for evidence showing that children have suffered significant harm or been exposed to specifically identifiable dangerous conditions by their parents.

Next Steps

Despite this disappointing ruling, the SCOTX also opened up an opportunity. The SCOTX sent the case back to the 14th Court of Appeals with instructions to consider whether termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child.

In the state of Texas, no matter what other allegations have been made, every termination must be found to be in “the best interest of the child.” This principle recognizes that, even in cases of abuse or neglect, it may sometimes benefit the child to remain with the parent rather than be permanently severed from their family.

The phrase, “best interest of the child” carries significant constitutional protections along with it. In one of FFP’s biggest cases, In re CJC, the SCOTX clarified that every judge must presume that an action taken by a parent is in the child’s best interest. This is known as the “parental presumption.”

Since that time, FFP has been working diligently to encourage the court to clarify the question of what level of harm to a child must be found before a court can overrule that presumption. This issue is now squarely in front of the 14th Court of Appeals, a court that has previously made strong and favorable rulings on that exact question. This could ultimately put this critical constitutional question back in front of the Texas Supreme Court.

While FFP is not representing the father as an individual in this case, we are deeply involved in advocating for the fundamental right of all parents to raise their children. How the court answers the extremely important question in this case could significantly affect thousands of other families who face similar circumstances.

While the ruling from the Texas Supreme Court was disappointing, a new, and potentially bigger, opportunity to protect parental rights was also opened up.